Our esteemed advisers in the marketing department

Michelle Gahagan, of The PACE Partnership, looks at the importance of contact marketing and the need for successful collaborations between fee-earners and marketing departments.

Back in November last year, David Maister’s website and blog started a debate about the value of marketing specialists in professional services firms. One of the challenges set was to find evidence of marketing professionals making a real difference in these firms.  To take on this challenge you need to consider marketing’s role.  Quite often it is seen as the driving force for what we at PACE call corporate marketing.  These activities create a general awareness and understanding about what the firm does.  Marketing professionals are also very active in another area – capability marketing.  Here activities illustrate specific areas of a firm’s expertise and communicate exactly what they do.

The third dimension
However there is a third dimension.  This form of marketing demonstrates that one firm can solve a particular issue better than its competitors.  It is called contact marketing and covers activities that involve direct contact between the client/prospect and the firm’s  people.  Examples include:

  • Highly tailored communications to individual clients and prospects.
  • Issue-specific training for them.
  • Client surgeries.
  • One-on-one client hospitality.
  • Face-to-face fact-finding, sales or client review meetings. 

Each gives a firm the opportunity to demonstrate its real understanding and support of a specific client or prospective client. Contact marketing activities are by nature very tailored and invariably make a firm stand out in the mind of a client.

In many professional services firms tremendous time and financial resources are devoted to corporate and capability marketing, whilst less is spent on contact.  When you look at how hard the three levels are to measure, contact marketing (because of its direct and active nature) is the easiest. Corporate and capability marketing do have a strong role to play in building awareness in the client’s mind.  However, without contact marketing a client/prospect is unlikely to buy from a firm.

But marketing departments do not always get involved in contact marketing activities, or are brought in late in the day so the value they can offer is reduced. The exceptions we have seen have created some great contact marketing. How have these been possible?

  • The efforts have focused on specific clients in the fee-earners’ portfolio/potential portfolio
  • The fee-earners and marketers have pooled their insight and knowledge to spot issues and opportunities which would attract the attention of these clients
  • The fee-earners and marketers have maintained a dialogue to keep their understanding of the clients and the marketing solution up to date
  • The fee-earners have trusted the advice and creative solutions that marketers have proposed
  • Marketers and fee-earners have collectively measured the effectiveness and understood the value this investment of time and energy has brought 

It’s a matter of trust
Unless fee-earners trust their marketing professionals, they are unlikely to call on their help in achieving fee-income or portfolio development targets.  However, marketers will only really be trusted when they are more involved in contact marketing activities and demonstrate their positive influence in achieving their firm’s goals.

So some marketers are taking the first step and starting to build trust with their fee-earners.  This is helping them create innovative contact marketing solutions, which are motivating new and existing clients to want to talk to the firm.  Over time this is resulting in new fee-income, reductions in client defections, client referrals and repeat instructions.

So how do you build a position of trust in fee-earners’ eyes – especially when your area of expertise is so different to them?  Trust often comes from a person demonstrating three qualities – credibility, competence and compatibility. These can be learned, as they are largely skills or knowledge-based.  Training, colleagues’ feedback, appraisals, coaching and mentoring are great sources of help here.

Credibility 
Marketers who seem in control and confident in what they say and do are more believable than those who appear hesitant and uncertain.  Real confidence comes from past successes. The more experience, fact, proof and evidence you can build into your discussions the more credible you will be. Another factor in building credibility is creating a good impression, so be aware of how you present yourself, what and how you say things, what you do etc.  Don’t use marketing jargon or terminology that is alien to fee-earners.  Try and understand an issue from their perspective and use language that they are comfortable with.  Your credibility will also depend on how reliable you are and whether you deliver as promised.  Missing a deadline, or not doing what you said you would, will impact on a fee-earner’s perceptions and make them less trusting of you and your ideas.

Competence 
The more your knowledge draws on fact, evidence, performance statistics and client feedback/perceptions, the more seriously it will be taken by fee-earners. They will be interested in your track record.  Marketing and business development is often outside their comfort zone.  Also their credibility with their colleagues, clients or potential clients could be at risk in following your advice.  Examples you can give where these ideas have worked in the past will make fee-earners more comfortable to take them on board. Competence will also come from applying that knowledge and track record to the fee-earner’s (or their client/potential client’s) individual situation.  Your ability to question will be crucial here, as it will help you to truly understanding the fee-earner’s position.  Great skill, however, is needed, as your emphasis behind any question should be to understand and not to lead a fee-earner in a pre-determined direction, in which you have a vested interest.

Compatibility 
Compatibility comes from demonstrating your real understanding and genuine interest in the fee-earner’s world, their challenges and ambitions.  This will be helped by how well you listen to and absorb the messages, which they are transmitting to you.  So skills such as:

  • Knowing when to stay silent
  • Using encouraging words, phrases and sounds
  • Taking notes of what they tell you
  • Clarifying key points to double check you understand them correctly
  • Summarising back to them what they have told you

will be crucial. Try and also help with a particular issue outside of the project you are discussing or working on.  Provide them with information and ideas which could make them look better in the eyes of their clients and colleagues.  Whatever your tactic, the fee-earner will begin to believe more in the value of your support and input.

A word of warning though.  Whilst a fee-earner wants reassurance that you’ll do a good job, they won’t warm to someone who projects an aura of arrogance or never being wrong. Neither will they respond favourably to being told what to do without understanding why or how. 

Making a difference
Marketing professionals make a real difference in professional services firms.  Yes they are at heart of the corporate and capability marketing activities.  But as firms look more to the value marketing can play in direct fee-income generation and protection, their creativity and expertise is being called on for contact marketing solutions. Such involvement is dependent on marketers building trust with fee-earners.

Some ideas:

  • Look at the range of fee-earners who you support
  • Map out those who will readily accept your help, those who need convincing and those who are resistant
  • Develop a programme of getting to know these fee-earners well over a period of time.  You won’t be able to manage everyone at once and so concentrate on a few in each segment.  Then plan at what stages you will tackle the rest
  • For your target fee-earners, start absorbing information around the firm of their successes, challenges, interests, ambitions etc
  • Begin to feed them with specific information which relate to these – such as news clippings on a particular issue/industry, news about their clients or potential clients.  The ‘I saw this and thought of you’ approach will start creating a positive impression in their mind
  • Arrange time to learn about and explore their work further.  If they are skeptical, then explain that the ultimate aim is to see if there are any areas in which you can help them, save them time/energy etc.
  • Spend the majority of the session questioning and listening to their experiences, their thoughts, ideas, concerns
  • At the end, summarise your understanding of the points raised.  Don’t be tempted to rush forward with ideas at this stage.  Build in a follow-up point where you can get back to them with a well-thought out way forward.  Agree the timeframe for this so everyone is clear
  • Outside of the session research into any points they said, which you need to further develop your understanding.  Feed them with more ‘I saw this and thought of you’ material as appropriate.  You might want to also put them in touch with people who might be able to help them with a particular issue
  • Once you have found solutions or ideas which can help them, present back to them in a format, language and style that they will be comfortable with.  Watch out and deal with any lack of comprehension or resistance as it arises.  Use past results, anecdotes and any other evidence to support your ideas.  If the fee-earner has concerns, clarify your understanding of the issue
  • Build in further meetings, discussions or whatever is needed to make the ideas a reality.  Deliver as promised and make sure your communications at each stage add value
  • Maintain regular communication (but don’t pester) – establish what would be acceptable from both of yours and the fee-earner’s points of view
  • Work with the fee-earner to monitor the success of any initiative and explore ways forward to help them even more.

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